|Sugary Snacks + Nostalgia|
|I bought a box of Oreos on a whim the other day and now I am eating Oreos nonstop. I asked the question, “What was your favorite childhood snack?”|
Here are some of the answers I got…
“A box of Lucky Charms. Mom would buy, then I come home from school & have 6 big bowls in a row; goodbye box’o Lucky Charms.”
“Nilla wafers and a tall glass of strawberry milk.” 🙂
“Goldfish. Those rocked, until I found out they sell them in that giant milk-carton thingie and I binge-ate.”
“When I was really little, tomatoes right out of the garden. Then peanut butter on celery with raisins, the proverbial ants on a log.” 🙂
“I loved those disgusting peanut butter logs they used to serve in elementary school cafeterias. I wish I could have one right now.”
“Bacon and rice. Wait… that’s STILL my favorite snack!”
“Raw Top Ramen with the seasoning sprinkled on em 🙂 We had to take it out side, cause Mom said it was too messy!”
“Raw ramen was awesome but I’d have to say my fav snack was chocolate moon pies and star crunchers!”
“Dunk-a-roo’s and Handi-snacks.”
I will be needing an intervention regarding my current Oreo habit. Actually, I take that back. I’m probably going to OD and get sick of them…
|C O M M U N I T Y . B L O G . S E R I E S|
|You pick a topic, I write about it.|
|This week’s topic, [ COOKING CLASS ] was suggested by Pool Minnow.|
The last time I did a Cooking Class post was July 18, 2008.
It’s been awhile.
In the interim, my pool game went down, then back up, then back down and my apartment underwent major renovations — all factors which contributed to me putting more time into the game and less time into living well through food.
However, I had to give out some presents and I decided to give out food. Way back when I was a saner sort of demon, I cooked a lot (and well, too, might I add — many waistlines will attest to this). One of my favorite presents to give out was pasta sauce.
Today, we shall visit one of my three great tomato sauces, ragù alla bolognese.
But, before we do that, I’ll impart one more anecdote that is, weirdly, pool-related.
Weirdly Pool-Related Anecdote Regarding A Delicious Meat Sauce
Back when the Riviera Hotel and Casino still had the Splash Bar, they also had an Italian restaurant which bore the uncreative name of “Ristorante Italiano” (which you have gathered means “Italian Restaurant”– in Italian). The restaurant has been gone for some years (although the Riviera website still has a page for it) and its space is currently occupied by the Queen Victoria Pub. I ate there a few times, but aside from their bacon-wrapped breadsticks, only ONE dish ever made an impression on me — their gnocchi bolognese.
Gnocchi are small dumplings made from potato flour. In most cases, they are either made too small and then overcooked or made too large and undercooked in the center (the latter is worse since it’s like biting into an undercooked brownie, all powdery in the center). Ristorante Italiano always made them perfect, lifting my spirits and giving me hope that if gnocchi this wonderful can exist on the mortal plane, then perhaps world peace is possible.
Well, at least there’s gnocchi.
The perfect gnocchi were topped with an equally perfect bolognese sauce. Bolognese sauce dates back to the fifth century. Let’s see what was crack-a-lackin’ in the fifth century:
- The Romans abandoned Great Britain, starting the Middle Ages and a long legacy of boiled peas lasting to the present day.
- Attila the Hun dies, elephants everywhere breathe a sigh of relief and donate their parkas to Goodwill.
- Shaolin Monastery is founded in Henan, China, philosophical teachings to be stuffed into fortune cookies soon follow.
- Mayan city of Chichen Itza founded in Mexico, have no idea they will be featured in Alien vs. Predator.
- Hawai’iloa discovered and settled Hawaii, decrees macaroni salad to be official food of laid-back people everywhere.
After tomatoes were discovered in the New World, they were brought back to the Old World and added to this sauce, thereby multiplying its awesomeness a thousand-fold. Later on, tomatoes were added to vodka, resulting in infinite instances of questionable judgment during the evening followed by hangover alleviations the next day.
In short, the best bolognese I ever had was at a hole-in-the-wall tacky-ass Italian restaurant in the Riviera.
I’ve made many bolognese sauces since and the best result is the one below, which I’ve adapted from Mario Batali. The dude may wear ugly-ass orange Crocs, but the sauce is boss.
Oh, and the Riviera hosts a variety of league-pool national championships. This post has now fulfilled the federally-mandated quota for billiards-relatedness.
ragù alla bolognese
Most people think of bolognese sauce as the same as “spaghetti sauce with meat”. That is certainly an option, but traditional bolognese sauce is actually light on the tomatoes, focused on aromatics, and very much about the meat. It is also sparingly seasoned.
- 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 1 medium onion, finely diced
- 2 medium carrots, finely diced
- 2 ribs celery, finely diced
- 4 ounces pancetta or bacon, minced
- 2 pounds ground meat
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1 cup dry white wine (such as sauvignon blanc)
- 1 tube (about 4 ounces) tomato paste
- kosher salt
- freshly ground black pepper
First up, the aromatics.
Onion, carrot, and celery combine forces to form that superhero of culinary force known as mirepoix (if you’re French) or soffritto (if you’re Italian). The French version is cooked in butter while the Italian version is cooked in olive oil. In both cases, the vegetables (also known as aromatics) must be finely diced or minced.
Slice your garlic thin. I had time so I tried the whole “Goodfellas” thing where they use a razor blade to make paper-thin slices that “liquefy” once they’re thrown in oil. I didn’t actually use a razor, just a knife from the 99c store, but I still managed to make some nice thin slices. Dice the onion, carrot, and celery into 1/4-inch dice (1/8-inch, if you’re OCD).
|the golden ratio|
|Ther ratio for aromatics is approximately 2 parts onion, 1 part carrot, 1 part celery.|
|The sizes of vegetables vary and so does a person’s idea of what constitutes what size. When a recipe says “medium” onion, that could be anywhere between a tennis ball and a bowling ball. Also, carrots get smaller when you peel them. What I do is buy an additional carrot and/or small onion to make sure I have enough. Celery comes in a bunch so you’ll always have enough celery.|
|After dicing half the onion, I’ll put it in a small container. Here, I used a 14-ounce glass tumbler. The amount of carrot and celery I need will equal this amount.|
I used four ounces of pancetta that I got from the refrigerated charcuterie display. You’re not supposed to use pre-sliced pancetta, but it can be hard to find (or afford) a place that has pancetta (or slab bacon, Batali’s other recommendation) you can have cut-to-order and then ask for it to be ground.
I took about three slices of pancetta at a time, wadded them up, and then sliced very thinly across, to do a rough mince.
Here is my Berndes stainless steel stock pot. It holds 8 quarts, but you can get away with a 6-quart pot — I wouldn’t recommend any smaller than that.
Turn the heat up to medium and pour in the olive oil. I slice the butter into 1-tablespoon pats before adding them.
Add the garlic, onion, carrot, and celery and cook them over medium heat for 15 minutes. You want the onions to be translucent, but not browned. Stir often to make sure they are not browning. The photograph on the right shows how your vegetables should look after the 15 minutes.
The two pounds of ground meat can be just one type of meat or a combination. One pound of beef and one pound of pork is a popular combination. You can also do pork and veal or veal alone as well. I’m not sure about ground turkey (for you non-red-meaters), but I imagine that would work, too.
Meat overboard! Turn the heat up to high and break up the ground meat, stirring constantly to make sure it all browns evenly. The photographs here are pretty crappy since the lighting in my kitchen after renovation turned out kind of strange. The photograph on the right shows the meat almost all browned (through a sexy veil of steam).
There is no question, you will have to use whole milk in this recipe. Anything less would be uncivilized. I bought a half-bottle of wine since I only needed the one cup (and drinking more than the left over half-cup might make me uncivilized).
Good tomato paste comes in a tube. Why? I don’t know and I don’t care. You can use canned tomato paste I imagine, as long as the measurements are the same. I tried this double-concentrated tomato paste made from San Marzano tomatoes from Italy and I do have to say — sh#t is BOMB. However, those days I don’t have disposable income from a nice tournament finish will find me using whatever the hell is on sale.
I find that adding the milk and wine a quarter cup at a time and then stirring thoroughly after each add to incorporate ends up with the best results. If you’re in a hurry, bottoms up both and stir. Squeeze in the tomato paste. Your sauce should now look like the photograph below.
It’s kind of watery, but that’s perfectly fine because you will be cooking it over a medium-low simmer for the next two hours.
I put on Die Hard 2: Die Harder (1990) and Live Free or Die Hard (2007) while the sauce cooked.
Stir occasionally and look deep into the sauce while congratulating yourself on your own badassery. Keep an eye on the moisture level in the sauce. I simmered it uncovered, but towards the end I put the cover on with a little gap on the side to prevent the sauce from cooking too far down.
When done, your sauce will look something like this…
Season it to taste with salt and fresh ground pepper and bask in the adulation of the masses.
a note about seasoning the sauce
This is bolognese sauce done very close to the authentic style, meaning there are no herbs nor spices in it. I suggest making this sauce plain the first time, and then add whatever herbs and spices make you happy. Some options you may want to consider:
- more garlic (in case you are forced to watch those Twilight movies)
- topping the pasta and sauce with thinly sliced fresh basil
- adding dried herbs such as basil, oregano (I prefer marjoram, which is a milder, sweeter version of oregano), rosemary, etc. during the sauteing of aromatics
- adding a bay leaf during the simmering
It can be difficult to cook from a blog so I have the recipe available for download in PDF format.
If you’ve enjoyed this Cooking Class and the accompanying recipe, consider a donation to my site via Paypal. Your donation will go toward a major upcoming tournament where I shall dine on ramen, granola, and — if I am lucky — glory.